Boing Boing special feature

DRAINSPOTTING

An exclusive preview of Remo Camerota's book of Japanese manhole coversPosted by Mark Frauenfelder


Click the thumbnails to check out each cover!

Remo Camerota, author of Drainspotting writes:

Japanese embrace design in all aspects of life, including manhole covers! In the 1980s cities began making customized manhole covers. Today nearly 95 percent of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan sport their own specially designed manhole covers. Designs range from images that evoke a region's cultural identity, from flora and fauna, to landmarks and local festivals, to fanciful images dreamed up by school children. With numerous colorful photographs organized by region, Drainspotting is the first book to document yet another wholly distinct aspect of contemporary Japanese visual culture.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Fuji City Shizuoka (静岡) - Fire water cover

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter - Fujimi City. Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語?, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter"), also known as Kaguya Hime (かぐや姫?, "The Tale of Princess Kaguya"), is a 10th century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative and an early example of proto-science fiction. It primarily details the life of a mysterious girl called Kaguya-hime, who was discovered as a baby inside the stalk of a glowing bamboo plant. She is said to be from Tsuki-no-Miyako (月の都 "The Capital of the Moon") and has unusual hair that "shines like gold." Fujimi City is where this myth is from and where this variation of the Fire water drain cover is found.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Ishibashi-Shimotsuke City Tochigi (石橋、下野市、栃木県)

This drain cover has the tale of little red riding hood as its design -- the city has a community theatre hall where they put on plays featuring fairy tales; many are from the Brothers Grimm. This comes from a relationship with steinbrucken which means stone bridge, and the Japanese city ishibashi also means stone bridge, so it was decided to make the city icon Little Red riding hood in honor of the Brothers Grimm birth place, Hanau, Germany. The Japanese city Ishibashi and Hanau have since become sister cities.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Sakae-Machi, Inba-gun Chiba (栄町、印旛郡、千葉県)

Doramu is based on the myth of this dragon who was said to inhabit the lake Inba, in Chiba. This lake was the life force connecting the many towns where the inhabitants could fish and live from. The dragon was said to have brought good luck to the lake and the residents living around it. Sakae Machi Prefecture now uses it for its mascot on their drain cover.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Nagoya City Aichi (名古屋市、愛知県)

This is the first "designer" manhole cover with a unique form. It was made in Nagoya in 1940 and came from a city councilman's idea after visiting San Francisco. He returned to Japan with the idea of creating manhole covers to symbolize the city rather than just a simple pattern which has no meaning.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Katsuyama City (勝山市)

Home of the the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, a world class museum that has become the center of paleontoligical research in Japan. It is one of the largest museums in the world and is well known as a treasure house of dinosaur fossils. In the large open-air space, skeletal structures of dinosaurs, fossils, specimens, dioramas and reconstructed models are displayed.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Konan Shiga (甲南、滋賀県)

This fire water manhole cover (which gives firemen access to huge tanks of water underground) is one of my favorites, because it reminds me of 1950s Japanese sci fi films, which I'm a fan of. The figure on this cover is wearing what seems to be a bio Hazard suit. Even the town's symbol in the corner looks like a bio hazard sign.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Musashino City - Kichjogi Tokyo  (武蔵野市、東京)


Another fire water manhole cover with the firemen wearing proper fire fighting gear. I have no idea why his face, however, has a cross mark through it. What it seems to mean is for people to step back if there is a fire here.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Shimizu-Shizuoka City Shizuoka (清水、静岡市、静岡県)


Shimizu S-Pulse (清水エスパルス Shimizu Esuparusu) is a professional Japanese football (soccer) club. Formed as recently as 1991, S-Pulse is one of the youngest professional teams in Japan, but is among only five to have competed in Japan's top flight of football every year since its inception in 1993. The team is has made its home city proud with its record of wins, so much so they made it onto the manhole cover.

Once, when my partner and I were traveling throughout Japan searching covers, we took a wrong turn and got lost. We pulled over to check the map and, by accident, discovered this cover, which is one of my favorites.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Disneyland Tokyo - Toon Hole. (東京ディズニーランド、トゥーンタウン)


Yes even Disneyland Tokyo has a manhole. It's dedicated to Mickey Mouse. It has an extra feature not found in any of the "serious prefecture" covers: it talks when you step on it, thanks to a built-in speaker and some sort of switch.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Yaizu City Shizuoka 焼津市、静岡県)


The annual landings of tuna and skipjack here are incomparable to any other place in Japan and thus the tuna has become a symbol of life and longevity for this town. The mascot on the drain covers adorning the streets in this area.

Since the Tokugawa era (1603-1867), Yaizu has been one of the important coastal fishing ports for tuna, bonito, skipjack, and mackerel. Canning and freezing plants operate there and deep-sea fishing developed there in the early 20th century.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Ibaraki-Tsukuba City(つくば市、茨城県)


Another one of my favorites: Space Shuttle and Saturn cover. Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC) in Tsukuba Science City was opened in 1972, and is the center for Japan's space program, containing world-class equipment and testing facilities for space travel. It sits on a 530,000 square-meter site in beautiful natural surroundings.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Drainspotting Extras - iPad Companion


When the iPad was due for release I saw it as an opportunity to create an "extras" version, a bit like DVD extras. This version is more like a coffee table book, it features mainly photos that were edited out of the book. The iPad companion has over 6,000 manhole cover designs. I have taken it upon myself to reveal as many as I can to the world. I will do this through volumes of iPad photo books and hopefully a Drainspotting book 2, etc.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Toyosato Town Shiga(豊郷町、滋賀県)(iPad companion)


Another firewater cover, found in the middle of the countryside. This is unusual as there are only rice fields around this water tank. I think the purpose of this water tank is to flood the rice fields with water when needed.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Nagashima Foundry (長嶋鋳物工場) (iPad companion)


The process of making the drain covers is as exciting to me as the covers themselves. First, a designer designs them using Illustrator, or AutoCad. The designs are based on the council wishes and the designer's ideas. This goes back and forth for a while. Once agreed, they start off with a wood carving, which is used as the negative to create a sand-compressed print. Once this is done, they use it to pour cast iron into the mold and create a cast iron cover. Once this is complete, they then clean them up and paint them with a thick black tar paint. Some of them are then complete. But the ones that are colored are decorated with pigmented tree resin to fill the grooves of the covers. This tree resin is so strong it lasts for over 20 years or more. A cover mold costs about $(removed),000 US dollars. Then they have a mold which is much cheaper to multiply.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

In the book we have an interview with the Nagashima foundry, who came up with the concept of color manhole covers.

In the iPad version, the process is illustrated through photographs.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

Some of the 6000 variations of the drain covers found through out Japan. See more on the Drainspotting blog.

Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers is available at Amazon.

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